Pictures of mid-19th century Jersey in remarkable album

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Jersey photographs in album started in 1845


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A remarkable album of over 300 photographs taken from the mid-1840s onwards, about 80 of them in Jersey, was put online in 2016 by Princeton University in the USA, which acquired the album at an auction in 1952


Gorey, photographed by a Mr Brodie, possibly in 1851.

The album was compiled from about 1845 onwards by Richard Willats, a manufacturer and dealer in photographic supplies, located at 98 Cheapside and Ironmonger Lane, London. It contains over 300 of the earliest paper photographs ever created.

Mr Brodie

Among the photographers named are the English pioneer, Sir John Herschel, and Thomas Sutton, who lived and worked in Jersey from 1848 to 1854. But most of the pictures believed to have been taken in Jersey are attributed to a Mr Brodie, whose background and full name are unknown, and who has not previously been linked with photography in the island.

Most of the pictures attributed to Jersey in the album are of people and places which cannot positively be identified. Ironically the one photograph which is very clearly of Gorey, showing the harbour and Mont Orgueil Castle, is inscribed 'Query. Jersey or Guernsey', presumably by Mr Willats. This suggests that although he was probably sufficiently well acquainted with the photographer to have collected over 80 of his images, he was not well acquainted with Jersey.

As is the case with the majority of pictures in the album, particularly Mr Brodie's, the picture of Gorey is not dated. But there was another image on the same page of the album, not connected with Jersey, which has been removed, but a caption dating it to 1851 remains. Whether this can be taken as a clue to the vintage of the Gorey picture is uncertain, but close examination of the scene, and particularly of the state of development of the buildings along the pier, suggests that it could well have been taken at about this time.

The first page of photographs in the album, with the annotation 'Jersey' above the middle picture

It undoubtedly predates what is often claimed to be the earliest surviving photograph of St Helier, taken in 1866. Coincidentally, that picture shows the West Park shipyard in the distance, and this picture of Gorey shows ships being built on the shore in the left foreground.

The album has been known for more than a century, and sometimes the year 1845 has been ascribed to it. This is misleading, however, because the evidence suggests that the original owner began to assemble his album in 1845, and added to it over the years. This is how Princeton University describes the album:

"An album compiled from about 1845 onwards by Richard Willats, a manufacturer and dealer in photographic supplies, located at 98 Cheapside and Ironmonger Lane, London. It contains over 300 of the earliest paper photographs ever created, along with a selection of autographs from authors, authors, and politicians."
Is this the oldest surviving photograph of St Helier? It shows town rooftops and the spire of St Mark's Church

Although there is no absolute proof that the pictures were added to the album pages in chronological order, there is some evidence in the handwritten captions to photographs that this was the case. Many of the early pages feature photographs by 'Mr Brodie', some clearly captioned 'Jersey', others not, and having studied the album again in 2017, some 2½ years after this page was created, we strongly suspect that some or all of the Brodie photographs were taken in the 1840s. Apart from what are described as 'photogenic portraits' and 'photographic portraits' of leaves, dated 1839, which appear on the first two leaves in the book, the first page of photographs clearly identifies some as having been taken in Jersey. Not all the images on this page are by 'Mr Brodie' but some certainly are.

The oldest known photograph of Jersey which remains in the island is the 1845 daguerrotype by Philip Ouless, better known as an artist, which is in the collection of La Société Jersiaise, but it is quite possible that some of the Brodie photographs in the Princeton University album predate it. It seems logical that Richard Willats would have put have started creating his album by placing pictures then in his possession at the beginning, and adding images to the following pages as time passed and he acquired more photographs, presumably from his own customers. So how could the Brodie pictures, taken in Jersey, on the first page of photographs in the album, have been taken any later than 1845.

All the early pages in the album are made up exclusively or partly of Brodie images of Jersey, either studio portraits or portraits taken outside. The first exterior view described as being taken in Jersey is an image of rooftops with what is almost certainly the tower and spire of St Mark's Church visible. The church was completed in 1844, and the juxtaposition of this images with others in the early pages of the album strongly suggest that it was taken within a year or two afterwards. This predates pictures of St Helier Harbour included in our pages in March 2016, which we then believed to be the earliest surviving views of Jersey. And it certainly predates the image of St Helier Harbour, the Weighbridge and Esplanade, with much of St Helier behind, taken by George Bashford in 1866, which is often described as 'the oldest surviving photograph of St Helier'. That claim can be interpreted in a number of ways - perhaps it is the earliest photograph to show so much of the town - but it can be seen that it is far from the earliest outdoor view of part of the island's parish, or its harbour.

What can safely said about the pictures in the album is that most, if not all of them, are older those taken by Charles, son of the French author Victor Hugo, during their stay in Jersey from 1852 to 1855. They have hitherto been recognised as the earliest collection of a number of outdoor photographs of Jersey.

Portraits

The majority of Brodie's images in the album are portraits of individuals or group photographs, mostly taken indoors, and some featuring the same models as others. They are typical of portraits of the era, which required long exposures, with the sitters forced to adopt a rigid gaze. Smiles would not come to photography for many years.

Only one subject is identified - Thomas Landseer. He is probably the engraver and illustrator, brother of the famous painter Sir Edwin. This portrait is said to be by Mr Brodie. A further detailed study of the album has allowed us to identify more photographs which we believe were among the 80 thought to be by Brodie, and we added them to the gallery below in 2017.

There are some photographs of buildings in St Helier, and although we have failed to positively identify any individual building, we believe that some were probably in the Rouge Bouillon area, and also possibly in Regent Road, both of which were fashionable parts of St Helier in the mid-19th century.

The only photograph in the album said to have been taken in Jersey but not by Brodie, is an albumen print from 1855 by Thomas Sutton, who had a studio in St Brelade's Bay for six years from 1848 until it burnt down. He invented a panoramic lens, the single lens reflex camera, and took the first colour photograph some years after he left Jersey. The picture in the album attributed to him and annotated 'Jersey' is of an arched stone pergola covered in Wisteria. We should say that we have our doubts that this is a Jersey scene.

Although there is no indication that it was not taken by Brodie, one Jersey photograph in the album, of two market girls (see gallery below) is very reminiscent of similar photographs taken in Jersey by William Collie, who would have been a contemporary of Brodie.

Gallery

A portrait of two market girls, very reminiscent of the style of Brodie's contemporary William Collie
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